If you live in the US, (or enjoy reality TV shows) you probably watched the presidential debate last evening.
Can I just say, wow, that was tragic. No matter what side of the stage you were rooting for, I think it is safe to say, nobody really won here, neither opponent, nor the American people. I think we can all look at what happened and agree, this is a huge reason we are so divided as a nation.
But don’t worry, discussing politics is the last thing I want to dive into. That roller coaster is too much for me to handle!
But, it did dawn on me, as I was reflecting over last night’s events, a divided house will never stand.
When I began this blog site, I made it very clear my intentions were not to divide, but bring to light the real life consequences of how we treat people.
I have said this over and over, and I will say it again, yes, I am mostly addressing the religious organization I grew up in, because that is what I know. It would be irresponsible of me to talk about subjects I have no first hand knowledge of.
I ran across a Facebook post the other day about a woman who had left the UPC. Her appearance has obviously changed since leaving and she is having fun experimenting with looks she never got to try before. While she was at the store, minding her own business, a clearly UPC or other like faith woman loudly spoke negatively of this woman’s appearance. The ex-UPC woman handled the judgment graciously and left the store.
I shared her story on my Facebook page, others I know did as well, and the response was disheartening. I actually saw people either discrediting this woman’s story, or supporting the woman judging! I really don’t know why this shocked me so much, it really shouldn’t have. I have seen it time and time again.But there it is, the cancer that is eating away at Christians everywhere.
I am guilty of it, you are guilty of it. When we hear of someone who is supposed to be on our “side” acting in a way that was hurtful to others, it takes a lot of effort to stop our own emotions dead in their tracks and look at the situation from the viewpoint of the other party. It is difficult to dismantle our own biases and see things objectively.
The first thing we as humans want to do is get defensive. “No way someone from our ‘side’ could’ve done something like that!” We try to discredit the other party, justify the reaction of our ally, or even victim blame by saying that person was asking for it in some way.
Why is this?
I can tell you from personal experience, I don’t believe the woman who was ridiculed was lying. If you think she was, I encourage you to read some other blogs of those who have left the UPC, watch some of their YouTube channels, read their books. It may surprise you how common this reaction actually is. Would it shock you to know there are actually support groups and specialized therapists for people who left the UPC and other similar religious organizations? There is a legitimate reason for them.
Do those things make you angry? They should! They should make everyone on all “sides” so angry we all start a revolution! A revolution of love.
Love is the only salve that can heal.
Does it really matter if a person dresses differently than you? Does it really matter if they have brown hair or purple hair? What if they are a different political party? A different race? How about if they left your church to attend another? Or are a different religion all together? Or no religion at all?
How do we handle such controversial differences? These beliefs are personal to us.
How did Christ handle them? Jesus said out of our hearts our mouths speak, and we will be justified by our words and also condemned by our words. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan? Which one of those characters do you want to be? Those who snubbed their nose at someone who wasn’t on their “side” or someone who sees people for who they are, and helps them on their journey regardless of their differences.
It is scary to me how quickly we are able to defend our allies no matter their behavior and dismiss those we view as against us.
We will never succeed without unity. And unity will never be accomplished without love.
A house divided will never stand.
Those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time should be familiar with my blogging process. When an ah-ha moment hits, no matter the subject, I write about it. This is one of those moments.
As I was lying down waiting for Jereme to get home from a night out with friends, I started reading my Bible. To be completely honest, I am taking a short break from Facebook for lots of reasons, and out of not having much else to look at I decided to do some extra Bible reading. Makes me sound like a terrible Christian, but I am someone who feels the need to tell on myself, so just thought I’d throw that tidbit in.
As I was reading, I came across Romans 8:26.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Romans 8:26 ESV
I was just going to breeze right by this verse, but I couldn’t stop rereading the phrase, “too deep for words”.
We’ve all been there, those types of situations that just seem too heartbreaking to speak about. We have all suffered unspeakable losses at some point in our lives. While I was reading, several situations in my own life came to mind. I have made most of my life public, but there are a few things that are just too painful to even write about. So I started doing a little digging into this verse just to unravel it a bit. And wow, have I have underestimated the value of this verse!
This may be a different kind of blog post, but bear with me, I’m getting somewhere with this I promise!
When I start researching, I love to use an interlinear app, mix in some Google searches and commentaries, then write out the verse in my own words using the information I have uncovered. So I’ll just take you on my little journey into Romans 8:26!
This is exactly how this verse reads in it’s original context: (because I am typing this on my phone, I am just going to use the English words here, but I’ll highlight the important Greek ones).
Likewise now also the Spirit joins to help the weakness of us the for things which we should pray for as it behooves not we know but Himself the Spirit makes intercession with groanings inexpressible.
Yeah, you confused yet? I was too. So let’s break it down.
The Greek word for weakness is astheneia. Which can translate as illness of body or mind.
The Greek word for the phrase “joins to help” is synantilambanetai. Which literally means the action of one who assists another to bear a burden by taking hold on the opposite side to share the load.
The Greek word for intercession is hyperentynchanei which translates to, appeal to someone.
Now here’s where it gets interesting!
The Greek word for groanings is stenagmois. This is the noun version of the verb, stenazo. (Meaning, they both come from the same root word). Stenazo is groaning together with someone due to physical suffering, loss, or distress.
And lastly, the Greek word for inexpressible is alalētois, which means just that, something not expressive with words.
Now that I have bored you with the original Greek, let’s put it all together!
The Spirit bears our burdens with us, by taking hold of the opposite side and sharing the load. When we do not know how to pray, and all we can do is sigh within ourselves due to physical suffering or a loss, the Holy Spirit appeals to the Father for us by sighing and groaning together with us.
Wow! You may want to go back and read that again!
Personally, I know there are times when I have just been too sad, too heartbroken, or just out of words to say and all I can do is sigh in my heart to God. And in all my years, whenever I experienced this, I just felt weak and honestly like an inexperienced Christian.
But, the Bible tells us plainly this is normal! These types of situations are exactly why God sent us His Holy Spirit! There is no need for us to utter words out loud, and it is okay to just be strong enough to sigh within ourselves. This is when the Holy Spirit comes along beside us and carries our burden with us!
How amazing is that?
If you have stuck with me this long, thank you! I sincerely hope you feel the same amount of relief I felt when I read this.
It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. We have help in carrying our burden, and we don’t even have to speak a word.
Well guys, ugly, raw, unfiltered blog here.
This could all very well be the pain pills talking, but I’m just going to tell you about my day and what lead up to a random ah-ha moment of self discovery.
I spent my morning at work training a new employee. Nothing special happened other than feeling a slight twinge in my back while helping a patient not to fall. Went on with my day, no big deal.
After work, I decided to go grocery shopping. Of course, as fate would have it, after avoiding a near run in with someone from my past, I grabbed a cart with a janky wheel. Again, no big deal, just had to push it a little to the left the entire time. Bent down to pick up a case of water, then put it in the bottom of said janky wheeled cart and realized quickly my back was going to be sore for a while. This time it was a little more than just a slight twinge.
This happens to me from time to time. Part of getting older I suppose. So here I am, 1:24 in the morning wide awake on pain pills, sitting with my legs up on the couch and a heating pad in order to get some relief.
Clearly, now is the best time for my brain to kick into self reflection mode. (Sarcasm intended). But, even now I suppose that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
I’ve written about this before. This is a huge obstacle in my life. If you read my book, you already know my father left when I was young, couple that with some twenty-five years of spiritual abuse, and it’s understandable why this topic would come up in many therapy sessions. (My father and I do stay in contact now, he’s not really the point here).
Something my therapist said to me once has stayed with me. Maybe, I remember her question specifically because it is something I’m still working through. She asked me one day, “so, you don’t trust anyone completely?”
The best answer I could come up with honestly was, no.
The deep in your gut fear of abandonment and rejection is real.
And as I am lying here with nothing but my thoughts it occurred to me, I don’t trust me either.
While my body is telling me I’m in pain, my brain is second guessing myself. “Is it really that bad? Maybe the pain is just in my head. Maybe the little twinges I felt earlier in the day weren’t real.”
Then I began reflecting over my day and started second guessing my training abilities. “Did I actually explain that correctly? Is what I was saying the right way to do it? Have I been doing my job wrong for the last three years?”
Maybe the reason I can’t trust anyone else, is because I don’t trust me.
I am sitting here second guessing my own body guys! Who does that?!
Logically, I know that I know how to do my job. Obviously, I’m not too terrible at it or I wouldn’t still be there! So why in the middle of the night am I questioning all of my daily activities?
Learning to come out of my shell and be myself took time. Untangling a lifetime of crazy has taken some effort. But clearly, I have some more work to do.
How can I put my full trust in Christ if I can’t get ahold of my deeply rooted trust issues? They seem to be a part of me. My identity. It’s who I am.
Hi, my name is Jen, and I have trust issues.
Maybe someday I can change. Maybe at some point in my life I can experience pain, or joy, or even sadness without the merry- go-round in my head telling me it’s not real.
When I started publishing a blog I knew there would be backlash. When my book came out, I had no doubt there would be backlash. I knew what the response would be from many people, at least, I thought I knew.
I fully expected mud to be thrown at me personally, and I expected to step on people’s toes and be on the receiving end of a comment or two made out of raw emotion. As much as I knew that would pain me, most people, including myself, take their religious beliefs very personally, as they should, so I get it. It is a touchy subject.
And, yet, after carefully weighing and accepting my potential consequences I still chose to proceed.
That being said, I can only speak to what I know, and having spent twenty-five years in the United Pentecostal Church, that is what I know.
But, the thing that has surprised me about this the most, is the responses from many people that are comprised of veiled threats to my family, claims that I am blasphemous against God, and that speaking against the church would most certainly land me in the innermost circles of hell itself. Such comments have zero scripture that can be used to back them or at least, scripture used in context, and are simply scare tactics.
Wow. Didn’t see that coming.
In an online support group I am in, someone made a very real comment. And it made sense to me. The reason so (very) many people tend to spew out these vague, haphazard responses to my published material was simply this:
The church has become their god.
Yikes, that stings a little. And I can’t say I have never been in their shoes, I would be a hypocrite to stand here and say that at one time my responses wouldn’t be the exact same. In fact, I really don’t even blame them for this oversight.
This is really a problem that spans across all denominations, but like I said, I can only speak to what I know.
Several years before I left the UPC, a friend of mine posted a paper that she had written for her college class about the organization, and how she thought it was a cult. My stomach dropped when I read this and I quickly without even giving her opinion a second thought, unfollowed her.
Why did I respond like that? Why was I so quick to be offended by someone else’s opinion of the United Pentecostal Church? She wasn’t saying God wasn’t real, she wasn’t even writing negatively about any one person, she was writing about an organization.
Everyone knows the Ten Commandments. What is the very first one?
“You shall have no other gods before me”.
It was written in stone, plain as day, yet for some reason that seemed to be the one Isreal struggled with the most.
How do we know when we are putting idols ahead of God? And what happens when we do?
I think a telltale sign is when someone says something critical of whatever is dearest to your heart, it becomes obvious where your allegiance lies.
In the UPC, you are taught that anytime the church doors are open you are to be there. Rain, snow, vacation, sick doesn’t matter you should be at church. You are taught that your pastor has the authority to give you additional rules that aren’t clearly scribed in the Bible, and you are to comply. Your money is top priority, and it is widely believed that your finances will be cursed if you don’t give enough to your church (other charities don’t count). You go to conferences and hoop and holler when the main man in charge of it all dances a jig across the stage.
Your entire life is wrapped up in the church.
Is it possible, with so much focus being placed on the outward appearance of having God around, we fail to invite him at all into our day to day lives?
There is verse after verse in the Bible scorning those who have forgotten the main reason while they are caught up in being busy for the main reason. (Think Mary and Martha.)
My childhood pastor preached a message once that stuck with me, “You gotta keep the main thing, the main thing”!
Meaning, if Jesus isn’t the main thing, what is?
I am completely preaching to myself here as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy. And it’s easy while we are in the thick of the business to lose perspective. I get it.
But, do you put more effort into attending a building and working like a bee than you do worshiping God and entering into the beauty of his holiness? Do you put more emphasis on what your pastor says than what the Bible says? What would happen if you found the pastor’s words to be false? Or if you felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit leading you away from your congregation? What would you do?
The Bible tells us to test the spirits to see if they are of Christ.
Test your own spirit. Are you as much or more offended by someone critiquing your church organization or your pastor than you would be of them criticizing God himself?
If you feel a little twinge by reading that, maybe your church is your idol.
Here’s the thing, like I have already stated, I can only speak to what I know, and what I know is a whole lot of people have compared me speaking out against the UPC to if I were spitting on Christ himself. And to be honest, if I weren’t already a believer, those comments would probably turn me away from Christ altogether.
I have said it before, and I will probably say it again: the UPC is NOT in fact God. And speaking out against the man made doctrines of a man made organization (which has been around for less time than my grandparents) while using scripture to back my statements is most certainly NOT blasphemous.
I challenge you, search your heart, test your spirit. Be honest with yourself. If you find that someone saying something negative about your religious organization ruffles your feathers to the point you are dooming their soul to hell, maybe, just maybe that organization is your idol and you have forgotten all about the main thing.
In doing what I do, I have had the opportunity to hear many people’s stories about their current church situation. Some are considering leaving, some are in the process of leaving, and others have already left but are learning to deal with the aftermath of that life changing decision.
Let me just say, I feel beyond blessed and honored that so many people have felt safe to reach out and trust me enough to disclose their personal situations. And I say a prayer for each and every one of them.
Myself personally, I feel like a hot mess 97.9% of the time, so I feel very ill equipped to give any sort of life advice. Leaving a church that has been your life and for some even their livelihood is a decision that cannot and should not be taken lightly.
So, I decided to put into words somethings that I wish I would have known at the beginning of my journey. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else.
1. Give yourself time! I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to sort through, let alone heal from years of indoctrination and spiritual abuse overnight. Be patient. Things will get better I promise!
2. You do not, under any circumstance, owe anyone an explanation of your decision. This is between you and God only.
3. You will not be able to convince anyone of anything if they are not ready to hear it. I know when I left, I wanted so badly just to stand in a crowded church with a megaphone shouting, “you don’t have to live this way!” But that would accomplish nothing. If your spouse is not making the journey with you, of course that adds a level of complication. Maybe, try to explain to the point they chose to listen, then do your best to trust God for the rest.
4. Ladies, the outward change is difficult I’m not going to lie. If you are like I was, I had no idea how to shop for clothes! It was so overwhelming looking at the different cuts and sizes of jeans! Give yourself grace. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, and know that your style will evolve over the next few seasons. You are no doubt going to have a bad haircut or two. Your makeup is probably not going to look like a runway model. Eyeliner is difficult! But I promise, if you just keep practicing, it gets better!
5. Community. Super important! If you don’t know anyone personally who has made the same journey, find some online support groups. It will be easy to seclude yourself during this time, but try not to. If you need pointed in the right direction, let me know I can hook you up!
6. Realize you are not alone! This kind of goes with the last one, but when we left our UPC church I felt like I had lost everyone. I felt so very alone. But know there are others who have walked this path, and while you may feel lonely now, with time you will make connections. It is amazing how many people have ties to toxic churches.
7. Research and learn to recognize the signs of toxic relationships and the proper terms to describe them. I healed so much by recognizing that what happened to me has a name.
8. Don’t be surprised if people from your past life reach out to you. It will probably shock you how many people are actually questioning.
9. Don’t feel like you have to jump feet first into a new church right away. It’s okay to take a break for a while. No where in the Bible does it say a prerequisite to heaven is attending a church building three times a week. If you do find such a verse, please let me know!
10. Lastly, and this is very important! Know that people of “the world” don’t care a bit about seeing your upper arms or legs. This is a myth that the UPC is really good at drilling into people’s heads. Especially the women! Like I already said, wear what you’re comfortable in, but for you, not anyone else. Forget the notion that as you walk down the street in a tank top and shorts on a ninety degree day every man you pass is drooling over your shoulder blades and “lusting”. Of course there are creepers in the world, I am not negating that fact, but there are far more normal people who are used to seeing that kind of dress and don’t think twice about it. I could go on forever about the hyper-sexualization in the UPC, but I won’t. Just know when you feel a weird twinge the first time you show any skin that has never seen the light of day before, most likely it is not conviction. It is simply a remnant of your past and it goes away with time with no detriment to you. You are NOT backsliding!
I hope this blog will come in handy to someone at some point. And if you ever find yourself needing additional support, as always feel free to reach out!
One more thing, we are coming up on the one year anniversary of “Free”! I can’t even believe the response that little book has received! Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for updates about that!
God bless you on your journey to freedom!
Hi guys! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve sat down to write!
So, how is Rona treating everyone?
All sarcasm aside, I pray this blog finds everyone as physically and mentally healthy as possible during this crazy time.
Just in case the virus hasn’t made you lose your ever loving mind quite yet, have you taken a scroll through social media recently? If your newsfeed looks anything like mine previously did, staying sane may present a bit of a challenge. That is until I decided to do a massive newsfeed cleanup. And I can tell you, it has made a huge difference in my mood.
Now, I know you are probably judging me a little, I would be judging me as well by that statement. I mean why would I delete people whom I have known for years? Am I that shallow that since we don’t all believe the same way in every matter, we can no longer be “friends”? Not even a little bit.
But hear me out.
Religious conspiracy theories.
I’m sure you have seen them. Maybe you have circulated one or two or even believed a few. But it has gotten me thinking; why does it seem that religious folk tend to be the most vulnerable to believe and share utter nonsense?
I am not talking about posts pertaining to Biblical Christian views and values. I am talking about the extreme, tin hat type conspiracy theories. The kind that insinuate everyone in the world has it out for them and their very fate lies in some far off (probably government ran) orchestration of behind the scenes puppet string like evil.
Now, if you are one who is always looking for these types of hidden agendas, maybe you should stop reading now. I don’t want you believing the antichrist directed me to write this through some secret portal in the hole my dog dug in the backyard.
That was a joke.
In all reality, I truly don’t want to offend anyone for any reason. Which is precisely one reason why I had to strain out my social media friends. It was getting really hard for me to keep scrolling and not stop to comment on some of the posts.
Here’s the thing, the nonreligious world thinks we are crazy enough. Throw in some good old fashioned conspiracy theories and viola you have severed any avenue of opportunity for common ground.
Before anyone can take the stance of Biblical end time prophesies, let me just say, the Bible clearly states no one knows the exact time or the hour it all ends, and if you are a true believer, why be afraid of anything that lies ahead? Your ultimate goal is eternity with Christ anyway right? Why fret?
Religious folks have been at the root of conspiracy theories for decades, just look at the Salem Witch Trials. In 1668, Joseph Glanvill stated ingenious men should believe in witches and apparitions, and if they doubted the reality of spirits they not only denied demons but also the almighty God. Puritans not wanting to look less than “ingenious”, coupled with the fears arising from a smallpox outbreak, and dealings with the Native American tribes in the area, people began finding the evils of witchcraft everywhere. Before it was all over, the mass hysteria caused more than 200 people to be accused of witchcraft including several children and 20 to be executed.
Sound familiar? How many times have you seen or heard someone say something was “of the devil”? Coronavirus? Racial tensions? It’s almost like we are relieving a little bit of the 1660s for the Puritans. Add in the far reaches and fast sharing of information from social media and all of a sudden mass hysteria ensues.
But why is it religious people have the tendencies to so quickly find evil everywhere and to spread untruths without even taking the time to fact check them?
This is the question I am grappling with.
Spreading fear and distrust is not of Christ.
Philippians 4 states this:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
1 Timothy 1 says:
…so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
The Bible makes it clear how Christ followers should speak, behave, and interact with others. Not once can I find anything in the Bible which states we should incite fear, spread lies and hysteria, or bias political propaganda. (I am a Christian before I am an American, but that is a different discussion for a different day).
As a Christian, I know that if Christ is for me, who can be against me? I also know that times and seasons are in God’s hands, and in whom shall I fear?
If everyone in the world truly is out to get me, so what? If I sincerely believe my salvation lies in Christ and eternal rest lies ahead, why be afraid?
I conclude with this thought:
My Christian brothers and sisters, don’t be so gullible. Don’t aid Satan, the Father of Lies in his quest to bring down the children of God. He doesn’t need any additional assistance. The world is a scary enough place trying to navigate peacefully through life and eventually to death without making up asinine conspiracy theories to complicate it. It’s hard enough just parenting teenagers! I don’t need the additional stress of worrying about all of the ridiculous crazy things people come up with by twisting valid news stories.
Check your sources, make educated decisions, don’t be tossed to and fro by every wind of conspiracy theorists.
And for the love of Pete, stop posting on Facebook from the bathroom, you know they’re listening to you! 😉
I am currently sitting outside on my back deck enjoying the beautiful evening listening to the birds. They sound so carefree, and they should be! The Bible makes it clear God Himself takes care of them. Oh to be a sparrow, and by nature fully trust in God for our every need. Why do I worry, really?
I saw something this week that has stuck with me. Little girls trying to play outside in long skirts.
It seems that this small observation would be completely harmless. But the realization of the matter is, it is incredibly harmful.
I could see myself in those little girls, I could see my daughter. Fast forward to four years after we left the UPCI (Emancipation Day is in my calendar this week!) and I am still picking up the pieces of myself that I lost as a child. I am still watching my own daughter navigate through the remnants of her past in the organization.
You see, these little girls have no voice. They have no identity. They have no choice. As I was, they are being taught from birth that the very God that watches so closely over the sparrows is so harsh towards them that he cares about every stitch of clothing they are wearing. They are being taught that by wearing certain articles of clothing it would make men sin by lusting over them. They are learning to be ashamed of their bodies as God designed them and learning to hide their curves at all costs. They are losing little bits of themselves every single day.
I am heartbroken, even now. These little girls are why I can’t stay silent. Years of these teachings create seemingly irreparable consequences. Small blows to their self-esteem build up and cause incredible damage to a woman’s psyche.
I know. I’ve been there. I am still there. Not as I was before, but definitely still there.
Building self-esteem takes time. After having your identity ripped from you your entire life, it takes lots of time to figure yourself out.
I have written about modesty from a Biblical perspective recently, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.com/2020/02/07/the-oxymoron-of-modesty/, however, my burden this week has been the long term effects.
Being told what you can and cannot wear every single day, having ingrained in your brain only certain types of women wear those clothes, being constantly hyper aware of every male around you takes a toll.
Most women, by the time they are adults, have adapted a certain style, perfected a makeup routine, accumulated the perfect jewelry collection to match their outfits. Have taken a dance class or played a sport. Not me. Not the girls I was observing.
We get to struggle as adults to figure us out. We get to have fitting room meltdowns, wear awkward clothing as we try to navigate the world of women’s jeans, watch countless makeup tutorials on YouTube only to get overwhelmed in an Ulta and walk out with nothing. We are the women who are ashamed of our bodies, incapable of taking a compliment, and mistrust every man ever.
We are the collateral damage of a church organization ran by man-made rules.
We are the repercussions of the men who always have to be in charge of the women.
We are the victims of modesty culture gone wrong.
But, guess what? I now have a voice! I am now capable of standing on my own two feet, making my own decisions, and speaking out against this damaging mindset!
And I intend to.
As long as there are little girls trying to run around in a long skirt, I will speak up.
I will be their voice.
I owe it to the little girl I once was.
She deserves it.
If you have kept up with my blog posts over the last few weeks, you probably feel I may be slightly bipolar. I am not, I promise. But while we are on the subject, let’s talk about mental health for a bit, shall we?
Specifically, mental health in a conservative religious setting.
Yikes, what a trainwreck that can be!
For those of you who have read my book, or have been following my blog for a while, you probably are already aware of the mental health challenges my son faced early on in his life. Watching my child go through depression and anxiety at such a young age, drastically changed my viewpoints about mental health.
You see, I was raised in a home where you just “prayed through” if you were feeling sad, angry, scared, anxious, lonely or even ill. Whatever the issue was, I was always taught it was a me problem. Something I needed to fix by prayer and inner strength alone. Relying on medication was strictly taboo.
This wasn’t an exclusive idea to my home either. I just recently heard a story of a young lady who was dealing with suicidal thoughts. It was assumed by her church that she was just making up stories about her mental state. Tragically, no one pointed her in the direction of a mental health professional, they just pointed her to the altar to pray more.
When I was diagnosed as being diabetic at the age of fourteen, I felt like I had failed in some way. I felt less than and inferior to those who were healthy because I had to rely on insulin to keep me safe. (Turns out insulin could have killed me, but that is another story for another time). I thought if I could somehow pray hard enough or say the right words, or have enough faith I wouldn’t have to take medication anymore. It wasn’t until not that long ago I overcame those feelings.
So, imagine, if I felt insecure because I had to take medicine for a disease you can see in bloodwork, how I felt at first when my son started taking medication for his anxiety. I felt like an absolute failure as a parent. But it was abundantly clear to me, a child that young suffering those things was not because he didn’t have enough faith, or because of anything he did or didn’t do. He was a child. It was clearly biological.
Now, you would think having gone through that situation personally, I would give myself more grace.
But, the past stigma is strong.
I started taking anxiety medication right before I wrote my book. Working alongside therapy, the right dosage of medication helped me tremendously. I overcame panic attacks, difficultly sleeping, heart palpitations and other physical symptoms I was having.
I graduated therapy and weaned myself off of my medication. It was never meant to be a lifetime fix for me, just something to help me through overcoming my past.
But then this week happened. Without going into details, it has been a week of absolute hell for me. Once again, my body started responding to stress physically, in undeniable ways I cannot ignore.
Which brings me around again to my point, why do I feel so guilty about seeking help?
Because I had one messed up childhood.
Isn’t it amazing things that happened to us years ago, pop up with fresh feelings when the present circumstances are just right? I know so many 30 and 40 somethings that struggle to make sense of and heal from their childhood. Childhood was decades ago, why does it have such a stronghold on us?
For me, my home situation coupled with my church situation created mass craters of trauma that got buried beneath feelings of insecurity, pridefulness and just life in general. I navigate life unaware of their presence until I suddenly have an event that creates a sinkhole. And then I feel buried alive.
But I refuse to let my past hold me back. I refuse to allow the stigma of mental health make me feel ashamed because my body needs medication to help me cope.
No, this does not mean I don’t believe in prayer. This does not mean I don’t think God will come to us in our time of need. But what I do believe is, God has given us the ability to medicate.
The Bible itself tells us God gave us wine to help us cope with stress and ailments.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
Proverbs 31:6 ESV
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)
1 Timothy 5:23 ESV
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Psalm 104:14-15 ESV
Am I saying to become an alcoholic, no. But I feel I have to clarify for those who are looking for an argument.
But here is my point:
None of these verses say, only pray about your struggles. They imply that God gave us a tool that will help us control the neurons in our brains. Just as alcohol, medications can help us safely process our emotions by somewhat altering the chemicals in our brains. It is up to us to take advantage of this God given opportunity. He even gives us permission multiple times in his word.
I suppose I will forever carry reminents of my past with me. Betrayal is a strong force to overcome. But I am okay in saying I will be using the help of a therapist and medication to guide me through the landmines.
I would be foolish not to.
It took me thirty seven years, four months, and twenty six days to figure you out.
I thought I had it covered thirty years ago. Then, I thought I understood you more twenty years ago. Ten years ago, I thought for sure I knew the real you. Four years ago, I was thrown again. Two years ago, you once again derailed my expectations. Then today, oh today, you let me see the real, authentic you.
The true version that I had been shielding from myself for years. The version I always suspected was there, but somehow I always blinded myself from it.
Today, the scales have fallen from my eyes. I am no longer making excuses.
I have learned much about boundaries in the last few years. Never before have I thought I would have to implement them with you.
That was my mistake. My naive mistake.
It won’t happen again.
During the last four years of finding my voice, I have become stronger, wiser, and braver.
I am a force to be reckoned with, and I am no longer a doormat.
The last one standing. The last one to not have boundaries. I guess I should say congratulations. You tricked me.
But I can assure you, now,
Things will be different.
After my last blog post, those of you who read it were probably left questioning my sanity. Today is another day, however, and and my emotional well being has improved. Part of my healing process has been learning to allow myself to feel. Admitting to and experiencing the highs and the lows has proven to be a slight challenge for me, but I am doing better at it! It feels good not to feel like a walking zombie all of the time!
Something beautiful happened to me this week and I wanted to share. But first, a little background.
Not to pat myself on the back at all, trust me I have many flaws, but I am a giver and a fixer by nature. Acts of service is my primary love language, so I tend to show my affection in the same way. It’s just my personality. Drives my husband crazy at times because he has other strengths and sometimes he feels like I commit to and give too much. He is probably right. But, however, right or wrong, this is my way of showing love, and also feeling loved.
As most everyone knows, and many of you can relate, when we left our UPC church nearly four years ago, we lost many people whom we considered friends. The system makes keeping relationships with those inside the church nearly impossible. I’m not saying it cannot ever be done. I have one dear friend left from my past life who’s friendship is still strong. However, it stung quite a bit when she recently said, talking about some topics is now “off limits”. So while we are still close, I would be a fool to consider our friendship unscathed.
There were very lonely times for me in the first two years out. I am a woman, I like to be able to text a friend when I find a cute pair of shoes on sale, or if have a bad day. Those types of relationships were nonexistent during that time. I discovered fairly quickly those whom I had considered close as family, were friends with me simply out of convenience. We were not friends because we had shared interests, or got along so well. We were in a friendship for the simple reasons, we attended the same church, we were at the same practices, rallies, and conventions. We were merely in the same places at the same time. Convenience. When it came right down to it, when we were forced to make any sort of effort, the relationship wasn’t deep enough to bother. From my point of view, I felt like I tried, but at some point, it is just too exhausting to carry on a one sided relationship and so I allowed them all to fizzle out. Looking back now, those relationships all seem very superficial and conditional.
Are there friendships that exist without these faux pas?
There are many factors that come into play when talking about this side of leaving a toxic church, I’m not going to go into all of them now, but long story short, I found myself lonely and friendless.
But, it does get better. We don’t stay in valleys forever! Working through many of my hurts and hangups has allowed my heart to heal enough to begin putting myself in vulnerable positions in order for friendships to flourish. I wrote a blog about this very thing in December of 2018, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/love/
When I wrote this, nearly a year and a half ago, I was in the beginning stages of forming true relationships with people. It makes my heart happy to see the growth in myself!
Now about the something beautiful I was going to tell you about!
While video chatting (because that’s the new norm these days) with a couple of amazing women the other day, one of my sweet friends began opening up about how her family is going through some financial struggles during this time. The economy is a mess right now, I know many people are having similar issues. After having great prayer and a small boohooing session, we ended the chat with “I love you’s” all the way around. It was what my soul truly needed that day.
The next day, I was at the grocery store and my friend came to mind, I picked up a gift card and slipped it into her mailbox anonymously. I just wanted to bless her and her family with what I could.
The following day, we were all chatting once again, talking about the economy and the stimulus checks that were scheduled to be issued. I mentioned how I was waiting impatiently for mine because my unemployment benefits had yet to be paid out. Our checking account was running dangerously low.
It wasn’t two minutes later and the sweet friend whom I had given the gift card to messaged me that she had sent me some cash to carry us through until we got our check!
I looked in my account and it was the same amount as the gift card I had anonymously given to her! This amazing friend had unknowingly, passed her much needed blessing onto me without even any questioning or hesitation!
I was speechless and began bawling on the spot. I knew she needed the money, yet, she was willing to share her blessing with me, with zero terms or conditions! Who does that?!
Like I said before, act of service is my love language. Many times I think acts of service and gifts go hand in hand. It wasn’t so much that she gave me something, it’s that she gave without me asking and without expectations of me doing something for her in return!
Is this real life?
I have been chewing this over in my mind for the last few days. It’s not that this dear lady and I have a long standing friendship. We have only known each other for a couple of years, a drop in the bucket compared to many other people I know. But the quality of friendship far surpasses the quantity of years of the friendship.
Does this mean everyone I am friends with has to start giving me money? Clearly, not. I am not trying to sound superficial. But the thoughtfulness and selflessness of her act touched my soul in a deep way.
Philippians 2:3 says this:
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself
Her blessing to me far surpassed the monetary gift, it was the motivation behind it. There truly are genuine people in the world, and there is hope to have authentic, unconditional relationships.
My sweet friend proved that.